Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Emma (manga, vol. 10) by Kaoru Mori

It's the last volume! So sad...especially since Hans didn't get his own side story. I'm sorry, but the short, funny comic strips, while nice, don't count.

Of the three side story volumes, I think volume 9 was my favorite, volume 10 my second favorite, and volume 8 my third. If you were a fan of William and Emma's story (volumes 1-7), you really, really need to read volume 10, though - it's in this volume that they finally get married.

As I've done with the other side story volumes, I plan on just writing synopses and commentary, no read-alikes. If you'd like Emma read-alikes, take a look at my posts for the main story volumes (in my Titles drop down list, choose "Emma"). Since writing those, the only thing I'd add would probably be Deeanne Gist's Maid to Match, a Christian romance starring a maid and a footman.

Before I start writing about the side stories, I'd like to address something that came up in my post for volume 9: the Molders/Moelders being called the Merediths. I had thought it was a typo in the back cover description of the previous volume, but, when I did some searching online, I learned that "Meredith" is supposed to be the name chosen for that family in the English version of the manga. Except for one thing. I checked my posts for some of the earlier volumes, and I referred to the family as the Molders. I wouldn't have done that if they had been called the Merediths, which means that the switch to "the Merediths" happened in the final two volumes. Does anyone know why? Because I really don't get it. As I said in my post for volume 9, "Meredith" is not a German name. At all. I thought translated manga had moved beyond senseless name changes.

Ok, moving on.

"The Bicycle" Synopsis:

William is teaching Emma to ride a bike and, although she's gotten fairly good, there are still some things she messes up on or doesn't have enough experience with. As a result, she looses control during a bike trip with William and ends up in the mud. She and William get a ride back to William's mother's place.

Commentary:

I believe that this is the first time readers have gotten to see William and Emma since the end of the main story in volume 7 - that, in and of itself, makes this story nice. This story would probably be boring to anyone unfamiliar with the main story, and therefore unable to read between the lines, but those who have read the main story (the only people who should be reading this volume, in my opinion) will probably enjoy it mostly for the things unsaid.

The story takes place sometime after William has gone against his father's wishes, broken off his engagement with Eleanor, and decided he wants to be with Emma. I don't think Emma and William have agreed to marry yet - things are probably still too tense with the Campbells and most of William's family. William's mother, at least, seems to like Emma well enough. Emma is staying with her and assisting her elderly maid.

Emma is clearly trying to learn the things that will help her blend in better at William's social level, but Emma, as a former maid, has a huge gap between her personal experiences and those of people like William, who have lived their entire lives as one of the gentry. Little things in this side story make this clear: William finds out from his mother that Emma is studying a "who's who" book so that she'll be able to correctly greet people they might meet, and, when Emma asks William for bicycling tips, William starts to compare it to horseback riding, only to remember that Emma has never learned to ride a horse.

Both William and Emma are trying to make the best of the situation. William is determined that Emma will never be as uncomfortable married to him as his mother was when she lived with his father, and Emma's only comment when William mentions horseback riding is that maybe she'll learn how to do that next. It's nice to see that they're both trying to make it work, but I wonder how things will go for them, after they're finally married.

On a more shallow level, it's cute, seeing how distracted Emma is just by William's presence. When he isn't looking at her, she's watching him and blushing a little - which I can understand, because he seems to have become much more mature than he was at the beginning of the series. Emma also blushes at the memory of William rushing to her side and picking her up after she lost control and got dumped into the mud, and she blushes after William kisses her goodbye on the cheek.

I liked the kiss goodbye, but the scene after Emma's accident was a little too "damsel in distress" for me. I miss the days when Emma was just a maid. As a maid, she had confidence and pride in the work she did. She was good at her job, and she worked hard to become that good. Now...Emma is on the verge of becoming gentry through marriage, but it seems like she's lost the confidence she had. Even though William doesn't require it of her, Emma has so many things she has to learn just to avoid being looked down upon by those of William's class - and, even then, there will be people who will look down upon her for the rest of her life.

I have a feeling it wasn't Mori's intention to make the story sad, and others might not find it to be so, but that's how it comes across to me. As things stand, it looks like the next few years will be an uphill battle for Emma. I do like this story, though.

"Adele's Happiness" Synopsis:

This story focuses on Adele, a maid in the Molders' household. The household is still in flux, with new maids quickly coming and going. Unlike all those maids, who leave in order to marry, Adele's work is more important to her than any man. When a new girl named Maria is hired, she is told she will room with Adele. Maria isn't quite like anyone else in the household. She enjoys men quite a bit, but she has no plans to marry, and she doesn't take her work seriously. While outside smoking together, Adele tells Maria that she finds happiness and satisfaction in devoting herself to the family she serves, making sure that nothing causes them the slightest inconvenience. Even while she is working, Adele thinks of nothing else but work.

Commentary:

Of all of the servants in the Molders' household, I most wanted Adele and Hans to get side stories. Hans didn't get one, but Adele did. It just wasn't the side story I was expecting. I figured Adele had some kind of interesting past, and I was really looking forward to reading about it.

Instead, Adele's side story shows her in the early days of getting the staff in the Molders' household set up. I was disappointed, at first, but I got over it. It was nice getting to find out more about Adele's motivations. Adele looks and acts like hard-working servant who has high standards for her work and for others'. For those who are wondering if all that is a facade...it apparently isn't. When Adele has her talk with Maria, Adele reveals that work really does give her great satisfaction - there are no ulterior motives, no goal that she's working towards that will one day take her away from her work in the household. Adele is a workaholic servant.

She's not entirely without a private life - the beginning of the story shows her with a man who wants her to give up her life as a servant to be with him and maybe open up a shop - but no man who's ever been in her life has been more important to her than the work she does for the Molders family. Adele tells Maria that she wants to live a life that will allow her to say "I lived." For some people, that means getting married and having children and grandchildren, but that's not so for Adele. Some people will see this as sad. Others will see it as just another way of living and leaving a mark in the world.

It wouldn't surprise me if Adele's side story turns out to be the most difficult, incomprehensible, and/or uncomfortable of all the side stories for some Emma fans. Even in this day and age, the message is usually that a happy and fulfilled woman is one who is married or dating someone. This happy, fulfilled woman either has children or plans to have them someday (whether via pregnancy, adoption, whatever - the point is, there are children).

This side story, combined with the kiss Adele gives Hans in "A New Age," makes me really wish Mori had been able to do a side story starring Adele and Hans, set sometime after William and Emma's marriage.

Oh, and unrelated to all of that: now I know who Maria is! I'm sure she must have shown up in the main story volumes, but I didn't remember her, so her appearance in volume 9 confused me. Now Adele and Alma's comments about seeing her with a man make much more sense. And, speaking of Alma, a young Alma shows up at the end of this side story, looking much more combative and anti-men than I remember her looking in any other part of the series. It's especially fun getting to see her like this and then getting to see her dancing with one of the Jones family's servants in "A New Age" - she's much less angry by that point, but still resistant to the idea of ending up with anyone, and I loved how she took complete control of her little wedding-time fling (by which I mean dancing and maybe a little bit of flirting, and nothing else).

"Order" Synopsis:

Arthur Jones and a boy named Preston are named prefects at Eton. Their biggest challenge is dealing with a headstrong junior named Ramsey who refuses to follow rules. Preston tries to get Ramsey to do as he's told by being friendly and fairly lenient. Arthur, on the other hand, is more unyielding, to the point where he becomes unsure that his way is really the right way. Then Ramsey almost drowns while trying to row a boat on his own. Arthur saves him and royally chews him out for not obeying the rules. Although he's convinced that Ramsey will never want to be on a boat again, Ramsey joins the rowing club and even (grudgingly) follows Arthur's rules.

Commentary:

I've never liked Arthur as much as some of the other members of the Jones family, but I've found him to be interesting, precisely for some of the reasons I don't like him. Arthur is a lot like his father: he's very aware of how others see his family and how precarious his family's place in society still is, and he's very tightly controlled, emotionally. William breaks society's rules for love, but it's highly unlikely that Arthur would ever do the same - I think rules are Arthur's life. What's interesting about him, to me, is what is underneath all of that. Arthur is so controlled that I can't help but be curious about him.

I wouldn't say that Arthur loses control in this side story, but it does slip a bit. Arthur is usually coldly disapproving of Ramsey's habit of breaking the rules, but, when Ramsey almost drowns, the fear/relief/adrenaline causes Arthur to actually yell at him. Since Arthur mentions that Ramsey is a bit like Vivi (the harder someone tries to make him do something, the less he wants to do it), I can't help but think that Arthur sees Ramsey as something like a little brother. Later, when Arthur tells Preston that he doesn't think Ramsey will ever want to be on a boat again, his expression seems as stony as ever...but to me it looked like he might be a little sad (yes, as usual, I spent some time poring over characters' expressions - Mori makes me do that).

I imagine Arthur doesn't have many friends, so it was sweet seeing Ramsey decide to go back to the rowing club, which essentially means going back to Arthur. Arthur is hard on him, but Arthur is hard on everyone, including himself. It won't be an easy relationship, but at least Ramsey now seems to understand that, for Arthur at least, the rules exist and are to be followed for good reasons, and he's finally willing to trust Arthur at least a little.

I like this story, mainly because it's fun to see Arthur's mask crack a little.

"The Following Day" Synopsis:

Eleanor and Ernest are saying goodbye. At first, it's very exact and proper - they both say they'll be glad to see each other next year. But Eleanor stays at her door to watch Ernest leave, and Ernest decides to turn back and talk to Eleanor again. This time, Ernest admits that he sees Eleanor as more than a friend and would like to see her sooner than sometime next year. Blushing, Eleanor tells her maid she'll be gone for a bit.

Commentary:

Eleanor and Ernst's relationship is still in the very early stages. It's obvious they like each other, but Eleanor has been recently burned (her failed relationship with William). There are also society's rules to consider - so I imagine that the progression of their relationship will be slow. Mostly, this side story serves to show readers that, yes, Eleanor is moving on and has at least one possible prospect for marriage in her future.

What little Mori has shown readers of Ernest seems nice. I wonder, though, will his interest in Eleanor be able to outlast his first meeting with Eleanor's godawful parents? Or Eleanor's incredibly protective sister, Monica? Once again, Mori leaves loose ends - it helps make the characters seem more like real people, because a real person's "story" is never finished, but, for those of us (like me) who'd like a bit more resolution, it can be a bit aggravating. If I could request an unlimited number of additional side stories from Mori, one of my requests would be something that fleshes out and furthers Eleanor's relationship with Ernest more.

"Happy Days Forever" Synopsis:

A series of funny and sometimes sweet short comics about Tasha (her clumsiness, slowness, and desire to do better), Hans (his stoic perfection), Grace (her motherliness and maturity beyond her years), and Stephens, the Jones family's butler (his excellence as a butler and affection for the family).

Commentary:

In keeping with the simpler nature of the content, the artwork in this "side story" (not really a side story, but what else should I call it?) is also simpler.

I thought Tasha's comics were funny but fairly one-note. Then again, I sort of thought the same thing about Tasha in general throughout the series. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Tasha is sweet, and her role in the series seemed to mostly be as support for Emma and an example of the Molders' family's leniency. She also provided a touch of comedy, making her a fitting subject for these comics.

While I am not pleased that these comics are the closest Mori comes to giving Hans his own side story, I did like the comics that featured him. Mori pokes fun at Hans and his apparent perfection. He's a footman who's perfect at his job, handsome, and without any weaknesses that anyone can see - which leads to a bit of a running joke. Also, considering what happens between him and Adele in "A New Age," I liked the bit where Hans bribes Adele to get her to do a bothersome chore for him.

The comics featuring Grace pretty much just poke fun at her motherliness. Unsurprisingly, Grace was often mistaken for her siblings' mother when they were growing up - with her own mother gone to the country for her health, Grace was the only female in the family who was mature enough to help raise them all. I liked getting to see Grace's fiance (or husband, at this point?) poke fun at her for being so flustered about having been mistaken for a mother at such a young age. I also liked the panels that showed Grace as a young girl, protecting her things from her siblings by hiding them in a bird cage - she looks so serious, it's hilarious!

Although the Molders family's servants have gotten quite a bit of development, the Jones family's servants are rarely touched upon in the series. Stephens is one of the most recognizable of all the Jones family's servants. Like Hans, Stephens is amazingly perfect at his job - although I bet Stephens never fobs tasks off on anyone else. My favorite part of the comics featuring Stephens was the bit where Colin gave Stephens one of his drawings. Stephens has an entire wall of Colin's drawings, and his comment about regretting that he would probably not be around to see Colin become a grown man actually gave me a pang - unexpected after so many primarily funny comics.

"A New Age" (3 parts) Synopsis:

Emma and William are finally getting married, and servants and gentry alike are invited to attend. Several members of William's family aren't entirely...happy...he's marrying Emma, but he's family, so they're attending anyway. Emma gets to see all the servants from the Molders' household again, and she even briefly glimpses someone she knew back in the days when she was Mrs. Stownar's maid. Although the wedding isn't entirely tension-free, it is still mostly a beautiful and happy event.

Commentary:

Just like the wedding itself, this story (composed of 3 parts) is a somewhat chaotic affair that crams in nearly every character from the main story. I'm not entirely sure how much time has passed between this side story and the end of the main story, but it's at least six months later (Grace now has a six-month-old baby, and Colin, Vivi, Erich, and Ilse all look a bit more grown up - Theo is still alive, though. I wonder, how long do squirrels live?).

In and of itself, I don't know that I like this side story as much as I liked some of the others. It really is a bit messy, and, even with it being 3 parts, there's not enough time to devote to everyone who shows up. Various loose ends are tied up quickly, but incompletely (not a bad thing, particularly if you have plans to write or read Emma fanfiction or doujinshi - I haven't looked for it, but I'm sure it exists). The main draw of this story is that it shows readers the marriage that was expected (or, at least, I expected it) at the end of the main story but did not happen.

Another draw is just getting to see all the characters. (Sorry for the lack of flow between one paragraph and the next below, but, really, it's similar to the effect of actually reading this side story - characters appear and disappear so quickly, there's little time for anything but a "yay, I remember that person" and maybe a bit of an update on how they're doing.)

Tasha is still a bit of a mess, but she seems to have grown and matured somewhat.

Adele is the same as always. I'm not sure how I feel about the possibility of a romance between her and Hans, since I think they're a little too much alike - still, I feel that the idea is intriguing enough that I would have loved another side story, just to see how things develop between the two of them (even though I still would have liked it if Emma and Hans had ended up together). Hans seemed less than pleased about being at the wedding - the part of me that still wishes he and Emma had ended up together can't help but think he's unhappy because Emma is marrying someone else. It's certainly possible that I'm just seeing what I want to see.

Grace has a baby, and I'm sure she'd make an awesome mother. I wish she could have been as friendly towards Emma as her mother is, but I guess things are still a little too awkward. I'm glad that William's entire family showed up to his wedding, even if they weren't all happy about it. Arthur, as usually, is cold - very much like his father, actually. Vivi never even attempts to talk to Emma, although she at least refers to her as her brother's wife without getting upset - a nice change from her temper tantrums in the main story. William's father still isn't happy about his son's choice of wife, but he at least seems to want to keep his family together enough to try to thaw a bit - William's mother mentions that she plans to move back in with him - I wonder how that's going to turn out?

I wish Al had gone to Emma's wedding, and I'm not quite sure why he didn't. Too many memories about the past? Too painful to see Emma happy and think, "I wish Kelly were here to see this"? Well, at least Tasha was there to wish Emma well. I thought it was nice that, when Emma was asked to include her family name in the marriage register, she used (at William's encouragement) "Stownar." Even though it's been many volumes since Kelly Stownar died, she's still present in the story - just like a real person, as long as there's someone who remembers her, she's never really gone.

From the look of things, the Molders family and the Jones family will become even more closely tied in the future - Mori has set things up so that it would not be surprising at all if Vivi and Erich and Ilse and Colin all got married. Vivi already has Erich wrapped around her finger (I loved the bit where Vivi essentially asked Erich to dance, phrasing it as though Erich would have done it on his own if he hadn't simply been too ill-informed to know to ask her himself).

Hakim is back to being an over-the-top Indian prince instead of an actual person - darn. Still, it's lovely to see him again.

Overall, this wasn't the best side story of the bunch, but it was still nice to see everyone again and finally see Emma and William get married. I know this is the last volume, but Mori could easily have continued the series with side stories alone, even after finally writing about Emma's wedding. I would have loved to see William's family finally go from accepting that Emma is William's wife to actually liking her. I would have liked to see William's mother and father learn to be with each other again after so many year apart. I would have liked to see the Jones and Molders children grow up and maybe get married. I would have liked a side story featuring Hans, even if it was a side story showing him and Adele becoming a couple. Really, the list could go on and on - the best part of this series is that nearly all of its characters are people, with pasts and futures.

...The more I think about it, the sadder I am that this series is over. I will miss all of these characters.

Extras:

As usual, there's a short (3-page) afterword manga. This time, a random new maid (Annemarie) gets all hyper in Mori's place. Mori mentions that there are several side stories that she would have liked to have done, but she didn't have time - Annemarie reminds her that no one requested the squirrel story, and the story with the singers didn't star any Emma characters, so both of them could have been cut, leaving room for more side stories. I wasn't a huge fan of the story with the singers, but I did like Theo's story. However, if cutting Theo's story could have given me a story starring Hans, there's no question what I would want. Hans trumps a squirrel, any day.

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